Hear Me Out Before You Shut Me Out

Movie reviews

Ed Wood: The Best Movie on the Worst Director

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Ed Wood is distributed by Touchstone Pictures

I’m taking a different route this time by reviewing an older movie. I heard a lot about this one, like how it’s one of the most underrated films of the year. It’s an interesting view of one of Hollywood’s most…interesting people: Edward D. Wood, Jr. Cult film lovers know this guy, but the rest of the world have never heard of him. This guy is hailed as the worst director that ever lived. He made low-budget movies with horrible storytelling and crummy production. He used strange casting decisions in the weirdest of roles. He wears women’s clothing when he’s not filming. All of this plays out in Tim Burton’s unseen classic Ed Wood.

Many people don’t like Tim Burton, but I love his work. Sure, his last movie doesn’t qualify for quality, but he’s made more good movies than you know. That’s the beauty of him: for every good movie, he’s made an underrated movie. For Batman, there was Batman Returns. For Edward Scissorhands, there was Sweeney Todd. For Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, there was Big Fish. Ed Wood definitely fits in the spot of “best movies you haven’t seen” because despite its weirdness and zaniness, there is so much to enjoy. The cast play this ensemble of characters so well that you’d think they were actually the characters. The dialogue can be strange but also funny. The best part is that it’s filmed kinda like an Ed Wood movie. Watching this story, it’s hard to believe that a man like this even existed.

During the 1950’s in the height of science fiction, Edward D. Wood, Jr (Johnny Depp, if that surprises you) decides that he wants to work in film. Inspired by his idol Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio in one scene), Wood directs, writes and produces his movies. With the help of his girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker), some friends and even fallen star Bela Lugosi (amazingly done by Martin Landau, but I’ll get to that later), Wood independently makes movies that eventually stink so hard that they smell like roses. But after hardships occur, Wood has to figure out how he can overcome them and continue his movie-making dream.

Four things stand out the most in this movie. The first is the ensemble. Johnny Depp as the titular weirdo gives him charm and amusement that you wouldn’t expect to find. This character is by far the strangest I’ve ever seen, and I saw him in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Ed Wood apparently filmed everything in one take. It didn’t matter if someone knocked over a prop or said a line weird, it went in the movie regardless. Hell, all of the lines in his movie were weird. “Pull the string! Pull the string!” Martin Landau won the Oscar for his role as Bela Lugosi, and first viewing of this movie can explain why. He doesn’t just play Bela, he becomes Bela. There’s some dispute as to how accurate Burton depicted Lugosi in this movie, but Landau’s performance is spot on. His accent sounded natural as well. With his physical acting, his physiognomies (facial reactions), and his delivery, Landau almost stole the show in every scene. This was a better Bela than Kirsten Stewart in Twilight. After that comes Bill Murray playing a flamboyantly gay man surprisingly convincing. An odd departure from his usual shtick, but nevertheless he does well. The only performance in this movie that didn’t do very well was Vincent D’Onofrio as Orson Welles because you can easily tell that wasn’t his voice. Someone dubbed over him, and it sadly shows.

The second thing that stands out is the story. A hack director making strange movies strangely? It sounds too good to be true, but truth can be stranger than fiction. This story proves two things: a can-do spirit can take you so far, and that it’s always best to do more than one take. Burton also uses this story to glorify the auteur. Welles advises Wood to have full control over his material and not allow the producers to tell him what to do. Granted, Wood perhaps should have listened to his producers, but he probably wouldn’t be remembered if he did. Sadly, few directors stand out as visionaries. Nowadays, most directors serve as the pawns to the producers, and they ironically make worse movies than Wood did. At least Wood’s movies were  entertaining albeit for unintentional reasons. Some parts of the movie do get sad and/or pretty scary, like Bela’s story regarding his morphine addiction. You don’t see him inject a needle, but you do see the holes along his arm.

The third thing that stands out is the dialogue. Actually, make that the delivery of the dialogue. Some lines seem pretty standard to the character, but the way the actors say them make them either funny or just enjoyable. How can no one laugh at how nonchalantly Ed says “I like to wear women’s clothing” or how Landau curses out an admirer for undermining him for Karloff. Much of what is said probably didn’t exist, but does it make the movie more entertaining. The fourth and final aspect that stands out is the cinematography. Burton filmed this like an Ed Wood B-movie which attributes more to its charm and appreciation. It segues a number of Ed Wood elements like fake saucers and a model of the city in the opening credits. You can guess what you’re going to expect in this movie: a king of kitsch at work.

Ed Wood intentionally glorifies someone who probably doesn’t deserve it, but we respect him even more because of it. His movies did suck, but at least we had fun watching them to some extent (probably thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000) This movie probably is the best movie associated with the lunatic behind Plan 9 From Outer Space. The actors give great performances as the strangest lot of people. The story itself either entertains or motivates. It’s odd seeing a biopic for a person like this, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. It’s definitely a movie for film lovers and wannabe filmmakers both in glorifying the spirit of filmmaking and educating us in how NOT to make film.

Final rating: 8.6 (Do Go)


The Woman in Black: Potter Lives…Barely

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The Woman in Black is distributed by CBS Films

Now that Harry Potter is over, many will wonder what will happen to the actors now? The problem with blockbusters like these is that they wind up killing the actors’ careers before they even start. They find it hard to match the success of their previous role. Daniel Radcliffe would seem to have the hardest time to adjust. He just can’t go from playing The Boy Who Lived to being something completely different…or can he? Will he have life after Hogwarts? Many hoped so with The Woman in Black.

This movie marks the return to Hammer horror and features a lot of classic horror tropes: goth, ghosts, jump scares…so many and so typical that you can predict when they happen. You know those screamer videos where you know something is bound to jump out and shock you? The Woman in Black is a 95 minute screamer video, except occasionally effective in its jump scares. An interesting story and style aside, the movie mostly comes out as a shallow and only somewhat decent horror mystery with only gimmicks and little impact.

Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young father who goes into a town to investigate Eel Marsh Manor. The place is inhabited by the ghost of its previous owner: a woman who lost her son in the marsh. In her vengeance, she takes out the children of the townspeople one by one. Anyone who sees her will know a child will meet his/her end. Throughout the movie, Kipps learns more about her and discovers why she bring s her wrath to the town.

Radcliffe suffers the same problem that Shia LaBeouf suffered in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: he’s sadly miscast but tries nevertheless to make it work. He still suffers from that boyish charm that made him sell Harry Potter. Just like in the ending of Deathly Hallows Part II, he couldn’t convince the audience that he was a father. Despite this youthful handicap, he tries to make an effort. You can see it in his eyes in a number of scenes. With time and age, he might be one of the greatest actors of his generation.

While the story itself provides an intriguing mystery, the delivery turns into a drinking game: take a shot for every scene that obviously leads to a jump. The sudden silence as the movie goes on; the slow movement; the obvious dark scenery and/or cliché setups. You name it, and they have it all. Some jumps actually do freak people out even if you can predict them, but the rest become too easy and too tiresome to care anymore. The delivery of the story gets rather sluggish in the first half of the movie and picks up right around the middle of the film. Too much silence in the house doesn’t seem too compelling. The Gothic style of the movie does fit well with the story, and the costumes and sets really do add to it. If they took out some of the tropes and replaced them with something more interesting, the movie wouldn’t suffer so much. A good number of the cinematography actually provides some good shots, especially those with the Woman putting her influence on the children. Again, the style.

The Woman in Black sadly becomes one of those movies that offer no impact to people despite a number of things. Radcliffe tries to fit but only somewhat succeeds. The jump scares get tiresome pretty quickly. It’s an interesting story but required some reworking to prevent being held back as just cheap entertainment. So will Daniel Radcliffe have a career after Harry Potter? It’s possible, but not in here.

Final rating: 5.5 (Don’t Go)


The Grey: Liam Neeson is Lord of the Flies

forgive my delay as I saw this last week.

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The Grey is distributed by Liddell Entertainment

We’ve seen man have to battle nature constantly, from Tom Hanks to Bear Grylls. It isn’t just that he survives that intrigues us but rather how he survives. How does he cope with the loneliness or the potential possibility that he will die? How does he fight death and, more importantly, does he win? What some of these don’t show is how scary survival can be, especially in cruel places like…I don’t know… the frozen tundra. Enter Liam Neeson with The Grey.

Director Joe Carnahan brings us one of the first films of the year with this one: a psychological thriller that explores not just the man trying to survive but also contemplate the importance of it. In the midst of all this, the experience itself turns out to be pretty decent with a few scary and even powerful moments. Combined with great cinematography, powerful dialogue, and decent direction, The Grey gives a satisfying look on the internal and external struggles out in the wilderness.

Neeson plays John Ottway, a man hired to kill wolves for an oil drilling team in Alaska. While contemplating suicide, he wonders whether or not his life amounts to anything. After his plane crashes (in a pretty intense and nicely done way), he and a group of other men have to battle the bitter ice and a pack of wolves that want to feast on them. In the process, each wonder about the spiritual and the physiological reasons as to why they should keep moving.

Neeson’s played some good roles and some bad roles but still plays them all the same. Nevertheless, he’s a trusted source when it comes to the determined common fighter. If Qui-Gon Jin didn’t make you happy, check out Michael Collins for a much better performance. This role really does fit him even if you can tell he’s playing a role. At times he does grasp the depression and sadness of his character, but most of the time he’s still pretty subtle and incoherent. Good news is you can understand the best lines. Neeson surrounds himself with an ensemble of relative nobodies who manage to capture the realism and interest of the characters. They look and feel like real people bonding with each other.

Joe Carnahan focuses more on realism than exaggerated action or suspense. The things that happen in this movie can possibly happen in real life, such as wolves and getting trapped in the water. The realism does grip the audience into the experience without being over the top, but it does fall victim to the typical jump scare. He tries to make the wolves as the ultimate enemy, but the scariest moments in the movie don’t involve the wolves; hell, they don’t involve the jump scares. Fear needs to linger with the audience without giving them the typical shock and awe. If the entire moment strikes concern as opposed to just one typical shriek, then it’s truly a scary moment. That’s how movies like Black Swan and Fight Club  succeed as psychological thrillers. Seeing how everyone dies in the movie adds more to the internal issue regarding death and, interestingly, helps us understand it. Neeson explains to someone what death is like, and we get to see it in the eyes of one of the characters. This makes the death more bittersweet than sad, although some deaths are.

The most interesting part, though, is how Neeson searches for a spiritual need to live. The most reoccurring part involves a poem that his father wrote. He repeats the line “live or die on this day” which proves more powerful as the last line in the movie than in anything else. It becomes apparent that he’s not only battling the grey of the snow but that of the human will. All of this is captured with simple, impressionist shots of Alaska that take its time in capturing the world around these men; the movie doesn’t leap around like most movies do. It’s not Saving Private Ryan worthy, but it’s refreshing for this kind of movie.

The Grey may seem like another survival movie, but it stands out as something a little more. While it suffers from the tropes of horror movies, the moments that work really do work. Neeson doesn’t disappoint in his role. The realism and impressionism offer a beautiful yet scary depiction of the Alaskan wilderness. It gives the audience a first-hand experience as to what life and death mean and may give the audience a reason whether to “live or die on this day”. It’s not the best movie of the year, but it’s definitely worth seeing once.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 (I’d Go)

 


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Brutally Brilliant

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is distributed by Columbia Pictures

David Fincher ranks high on the list of Hollywood’s greatest minds. His attention to detail equals that of Stanley Kubrick, and his sharp vision is unlike anyone else working. He doesn’t appeal to mainstream audiences, so much of his genius goes underappreciated. What makes him more interesting isn’t just that he has a unique vision but also that he takes risks…and these aren’t risks that other directors would take. The ending in Seven? Almost didn’t happen because the producers didn’t like it. A movie about Facebook? On paper, it seemed ridiculous. Yet, Fincher always knows exactly how to make it work. Case in point: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Here’s an unusual situation: an American adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s bestseller two years after the Swedes filmed their version which already reached critical acclaim. It’s no surprise that fans of the original dismissed this version, but that may not be a bright move. Whether or not we needed an American version of this movie so soon is irrelevant because this movie proves itself worthy. This material is perfect for the director as the initial result is a beautiful, powerful, briskly-moving and impressive movie from the master himself. The movie boasts profound scenery, editing and even acting with a great performance from Rooney Mara and a surprisingly good performance from Daniel Craig.

Recovering from a libel case, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) is hired by a Swedish billionaire named Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate a mystery within the Vanger family. Also helping him is the talented but antisocial hacker Lisbeth Salander (Mara) who has a rugged past of her own. During the investigation, they discover a harsh secret in the family.

Daniel Craig’s performance as Mikael Blomkvist doesn’t have much facial features but doesn’t lack intensity. Blomkvist keeps things close to the chest, which makes Craig perfect for the role. He makes his presence known in every scene, making Blomkvist more noticeable, never fading from the scenery. While Craig’s performance is noteworthy as the wronged journalist, it’s Mara’s performance as the titular heroine that stands out as the best. Many may argue that Noomi Rapace played Lisbeth better, but Mara remains closest to the source material. She too conveys little emotion which makes sense because she’s erematic. She hates the people around her and fears being vulnerable; and once you see the people with whom she surrounds herself, how can you blame her? All of her acting, like Craig’s, comes from her eyes and voice. She maintains a subtle intensity in her acting while never breaking her Swedish accent. The entire ensemble supporting these two include veterans and non-veterans with few performances requiring criticism. Christopher Plummer as Henrik, Stellan Skarsgaard as Martin, Joely Richardson as Anita, all these performances stand out strong. Those who didn’t didn’t have enough screen time to develop.

Like his previous movies The Social Network and Zodiac, Fincher incorporates a strong ensemble. He knows how to break actors from their comfort zone and make them give outstanding performances, but it’s his narrative style that’s the focus of this movie. It uses the investigative theme of Zodiac with the gruesomeness of Seven and the visual beauty of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In fact, this film stands out as his most Impressionist. The scenery and the music convey the moods that the characters portray. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross composed the score, but unlike their last endeavor which stood out enough to win them the Academy Award, this score blends into the movie to give its chill in the throat. It’s noticeable, but it feels more natural with everything around it.

The script and story remains faithful to the late Stieg Larsson’s book, so a number of the book’s harsh events come to life here. Many people may not handle the rape scenes because those scenes can be pretty cruel. The story itself doesn’t just move at an amazing pace, it breathes. The two hours go by so quickly that it’s hard to follow at times, but it doesn’t get boring except in the last thirty minutes. Not that the part at the end didn’t add anything to the story, but the loose ends took too long to tie up. Even then, it gave the movie enough time to settle down from its motion.

If people should learn anything about the guy who directed Fight Club is that the aforementioned movie was no fluke. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a powerful spectacle, packing a punch with immense speed and power that you won’t know what hit you. The performances, namely Craig’s and Mara’s, get enough praise from other critics but truly deserve recognition from the masses. The scenery and score paint a portrait as haunting as it is beautiful. The story grips you tight and doesn’t let go, leaving you just as hungry for the answers as the characters.  The original has its fans, but those fans shouldn’t disregard this adaptation as it not only earns a reputation as a worthy version of the book but as one of the best films released this year.

Final Rating: 8.5 (Do Go)


Sherlock Holmes 2: The Game’s Afoot

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is distributed by Warner Bros.

Here’s how I saw the first Sherlock Holmes movie: it’s a Sherlock Holmes movie as directed by Guy Ritchie. Sure, it sounds like stating the obvious, but a deeper meaning lies in the statement. Guy Ritchie makes his name doing action movies, British ones to be exact. His movies involve guns, fights and explosions. So when you hear that he’s doing something like Sherlock Holmes, you know what to expect. However, it does help to keep the deductive manner that made the literary detective so memorable, which fortunately he did. So the first movie wound up being pretty fun and enjoyable albeit uncomparable to the original films about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s contribution to literature.

The same can be said about its sequel: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. It uses that which worked in the first movie and adds little variation. That which is different doesn’t add much punch to the movie, becoming forgettable. But the movie doesn’t stop short from capturing the adventure of being in the middle of a conspiracy, and a life-threatening one at that. Sure, it can barely be considered a Sherlock Holmes movie, and Robert Downey, Jr. can barely be considered Holmes himself; but both Downey and Ritchie put in enough energy and excitement to let it slide.

Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) finds himself against Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), who rivals him in intellect but opposes him morally. With the unvoluntary help of Dr. Watson (Jude Law) who’s on his honeymoon, Holmes must locate the brother of a gypsy (Noomi Rapace) and figure out how Moriarty fits in a conspiracy between Germany and France.

Robert Downey, Jr. is not a bad actor; it’s just hard seeing him as Holmes. Holmes in both Doyle and under the care of Basil Rathbone always had sophistication and poise with intellect coming naturally. Whenever he deduced something, he made it seem rather simple, hence the catchphrase “Elementary, my dear Watson”. His intellect was strong, and he knew how to make everything seem plausible. Downey on the other hand makes Holmes rather uncouth. He’s a genius, no doubt, but a dirty, unorganized, and even unorthodox genius. He doesn’t fail at portraying him, especially with the scenes where you see how he deduces; but you don’t see Holmes being this unkempt. Jude Law never fails at being Watson. Tall, proper, and eloquent, Law gives the perfect foil to Holmes (probably justifies his character). Jared Harris disappoints as Moriarty. The script writers wrote this character well, easily having him waltz his intellect and craft with Holmes’s, but Harris doesn’t really give his all. Unlike Downey who actually tries to make his character work, Harris rides with the writing.

This was the first time I saw Noomi Rapace, since I haven’t seen the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (P.S. I won’t see that until I see Fincher’s version). From what I saw, she gives promise. In fact, her situation is inversely related with that of Moriarty: she gives what she can with the little she got. We don’t know anything about her character other than she’s a gypsy whose brother plays a part in Moriarty’s plan. In character’s terms, she’s merely a McGuffin: doesn’t really do anything but get the plot across.

The movie has its faults with the characters but makes it up with the action and story-telling. Like any good mystery, Ritchie makes what seems merely pointless play an integral part somehow. Every small piece, including those of chess, has its place in the importance of the story even if its made pretty obvious. In fact, Ritchie really incorporates the Chess motif everywhere. Ritchie’s action scenes really make this fun, but it’s the scenes where Holmes deduces everything that’s the star. The moments when we see Holmes break everything down in his head bridge the gap between Sherlock Holmes and Guy Ritchie. Here is where we see the “Elementary, my dear Watson” at work, even if many of these things require some suspension of disbelief. Ritchie really borrows elements from Zach Snyder, especially in these moments and in the chase scene in the woods (a little of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I in there as well). It’ll be a while before we see the end of this, and I’m pretty sure few will want to see the end of it anytime soon.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows has its faults and doesn’t really contribute to the canon, but it doesn’t fail to entertain. The excitement of the mystery and the controversy blended with the action make this movie pretty fun. Where characters fail, the story, cinematography, and even the input from the actors make up. Ritchie sacrifices the mystery for suspense and action, but the loss isn’t too great. If all you want is to see Sherlock in action, then maybe you’d be better off in the old films, maybe even The Great Mouse Detective. If you’re like I, and you don’t mind getting sucked into the mixture, then you’ll enjoy this movie. I do recommend watching this with subtitles because it’s sometimes hard to understand Robert Downey, Jr. in his accent.

Final Rating: 6.5 (I’d Go)


Delicatessen: Wonderfully Strange Food for Thought

Delicatessen is Distributed by Miramax Pictures

America makes some interesting movies, but none quite so interesting as Delicatessen. This movie isn’t an American film; it’s not even filmed in America. Nothing about this movie is distinctly American. I don’t think that a movie like this could even be made in America, not in the way this movie was filmed. It’s bizarre but amazingly fascinating and well-put together. The characters are just as bizarre as the cinematography and the story itself, but it just adds to the fascination of the film. The twisted camera work and the synchronization of the stories add to the amazement of this twisted and somewhat comedic movie.

This is a French movie that came out in 1991. Supposedly, this was influenced by the work of Terry Gilliam, and I guess I can see it. The amount of Expressionism put into this movie is ridiculous both in a good sense and a bad sense. Gilliam has a knack of making some strange films (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, for example), yet his films are fascinating as they are strange. This movie wasn’t filmed by Gilliam, but I can see how it could look like it.

The film’s main story revolves around Louison, (Dominique Pinon), an unemployed circus clown who moves into an old apartment complex run by a butcher named Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus). The butcher’s daughter Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) falls in love with him but has a secret: her father kills people and sells their carcasses as meat. The apartment has subplots revolving around a man trying to maintain his family, a mentally-unstable woman trying to kill herself, two toymakers trying to make noisemakers, a mailman who loves Julie, and an underground group called the Troglodistes.

Dreyfus is just perfect as the maniacal butcher. He plays his character with such controlled poise but has no problems just losing control. He knows he is in control but maintains a restrained authority. Everyone fears him, and he knows it. Pinon has enough quirky and heart to make his character believable and even likable. His gags and showcase skills give the movie its humor, adding a sense of light to this already dreary setting. Yet, the movie is mainly about Julie, the innocent little ingénue. Dougnac benefits from looking ingénue-like, yet she maintains some subtle range. Her different emotions don’t appear too obvious, and those that are can be over the top. Yet, for the most part, she is subtle in her acting and maintains her innocent appearance.

What sells the story is how well everything comes together. This is a movie with numerous characters in one setting, and somehow each character interacts with each other enough to weave this story into a tight movie. However, it’s how they resolve that is just fun to watch. The suicidal woman tries so hard to kill herself, but every way fails. The final attempt has her in a room with gas burning, a shotgun pointed at her head, pills in her hand, a noose on her neck, and kerosene all over the floor. Despite this elaborate set, it still fails. The gun shoots the noose, causing her to fall, spit out the pills, put the match out and shut the oven. The ending of the movie has the same concept: all of the stories come together and elaborately result to the climax.

Even the most effective stories need proper cinematography, and that is what makes this movie fascinating. I enjoy Expressionism so much because it takes the audience into a new world. Everything is seen differently, even panicky. The exaggerations and camerawork give us this convoluted and disturbed world that would appear mostly normal to the outside world. The best example has to be how everything has to be in sync with the rhythms. Notice how to every squeak of the mattress springs, someone does something to follow the rhythm: Julie plays cello, Louison paints the ceiling, and Marcel pumps air into his bicycle tire. You know that something is going to offset the rhythm, and when it happens, everything happens in their expected manners. The camera adds some bizarre close-ups and bizarre angles that heighten the dark sense of the movie. Clapet wouldn’t be half as crazy hadn’t it been for the camera.

Bottom line: Delicatessen is a bizarre, fascinating, and just cool movie. The acting is good; the expressions are unique; the camerawork is effective; and everything comes together very well. This movie is so wonderful with its blend of exaggerated humor and madness that it takes us into a brand new world. It’s not very Hollywood at all. In fact, Hollywood would be too scared to think about this much less film it. Definitely see this twisted world of post-Expressionist France. You’d be surprised as to what you see.

Final rating: 8 out of 10 – Do Go


Thor: Lights, action, but what is up with the camera?

Thor is owned by Paramount

Let’s look back at Norse mythology: in the kingdom of Asgard, King Odin had a son named Thor. Thor was the god of thunder, forging lightning bolts and causing terror to the humans. He was a god from a distant planet banished down to Earth to fight his brother Loki and take back the kingdom. At least, that was how Marvel tells it with the movie Thor.

Marvel teases us more with this next “Avengers” movie directed by Kenneth Branagh, the same Kenneth Branagh responsible for the Shakespeare films. It’s been pretty anticipated ever since Iron Man 2 prepared us for it. We knew this would happen since we were promised a movie starring The Avengers. This adaptation introduces us to the god himself in a way only a Marvel movie could do: explosive, amusing and visually cool to watch. Yet, I cannot say that this movie is awesome. I want to say that I enjoyed this movie, but the camerawork and the script really need work. It’s hard to focus on the tale of a god when EVERYTHING IS AT AN ANGLE or ON THE SIDE. What is it about these people that try to be creative with the camerawork? The visuals were artistic enough.

Thor (Chris Helmsworth) is banished to Earth the day he is supposed to be crowned king by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) for threatening war with the Ice Giants. When Odin becomes incapacitated, Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) takes over and tries to rule Asgard as his own. Thor, aided by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her team, tries to get back to Asgard but finds it hard to do so because he’s mortal.

The world of Asgard is definitely a sight to see. The setting has been done creatively to the point where it’s just cool to view. The scope of this film adds some depth to the world of Thor and its cosmos. Most of the special effects behind the film were definitely appealing, but most of the effects behind the creatures didn’t appear real. Even for upgraded technology, most of the creatures came across as fake. Cool as they appeared, you knew right away they weren’t there. Still, the action delivers some amusing scenes. Thor, as cocky as he appears in the beginning, knows how to put up a fight. Hell, he’s freakin’ taller than everyone else. The fight scene with the Ice Giants threw in some really nice fights. The battle with the giant was cool even if it looked like it came from The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Chris Helmsworth actually does a decent job portraying his character. He gives Thor the right amount of energy and fun to really make him likable and range to make him seem somewhat human. He makes his character humorous and enjoyable for audiences. Natalie Portman, on the other hand, didn’t really give it her all. This isn’t her best role (which does sound stupid since she won the Oscar for Black Swan; it is hard to top that). I wasn’t convinced that she was Jane Foster or even in love with Thor. The other actors were pretty hit and miss: Kat Dennings was funny as Darcy, but Stellan Starsgaard didn’t seem all impressive. Anthony Hopkins hasn’t given any good performances since Hannibal Lector, but he plays Odin okay. He’s not really impressive that much. Tom Hiddleston as Loki seemed borderline-hammy. He appeared to be almost over-the-top and even forgettable.

The script could have used some work. Some of the lines were pretty funny such as “He drank, he fought, he did his ancestors proud”, but there were some that were just really stupid. “Do me a favor and don’t be dead”? Who says that? Nobody does. At first, the story seems to be a bit ridiculous, but some things do clear up. The villain is the hero’s brother: that’s a cliché so old that it’s beyond eye-rolling. However, Loki technically isn’t Thor’s brother since he really is an Ice Giant. As Thor is the god of thunder, being tased does seem farfetched as an effective means. Yet, he lost his powers upon impact, so that makes sense.

But if the script isn’t one thing, it’s the camerawork. Most of the scenes were shot at an angle; many of which didn’t need to be at one. The movie’s in widescreen, so we can see everything fine. There’s no need to put everything in a diagonal. Ever heard of a movie called Battlefield Earth, one of the worst movies of all time? Almost every scene is at an angle in that movie as well. Some things don’t work. The camera is supposed to represent the view of the storytelling. Nobody tells stories at a 45⁰ tilt. I don’t need to see S.H.I.E.L.D. interrogating Thor at a slant. The camera showing it straight is just fine. Also, what is it about movies moving the characters too far to the left or too far to the right? I understand rule of thirds, but even some of these scenes are just extreme. Characters are so far left and/or right that they’re practically out of the scene.

Bottom line: I want to love Thor, but the technical aspects get in the way. The worlds are pretty creative. The fight scenes are cool. Helmsworth does a pretty good job with his character. However, the camerawork is just frustrating. See it for what it’s worth, but it’s not the best Marvel movie.

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 – I’d Go


The King’s Speech: A Good but Familiar Sound

The King's Speech is owned and distributed by The Weinstein Company

It’s Oscar season, everybody, and if you must know, I really loved The Social Network. David Fincher really showed us that it is possible to make a surprisingly smart, hip, and actually well-acted movie about something as simple as Facebook. It’s something that no one really expected, and I’m pulling for it all the way this season to take home the Best Picture Oscar. Now, while other critics are saying the exact same thing, audiences aren’t exactly seeing it the way that I do. Instead, many of them are flocking to another movie that’s also based on a true story. Here’s the ironic part: it’s from Britain. So before I saw The Mechanic, I decided to check out the movie that’s garnishing as much buzz: The King’s Speech.

Based on the story of King George VI trying to overcome a stutter in time to motivate Britain during the brink of World War II, The King’s Speech gives us big-name Brits like Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush (okay, he’s Australian, but it still counts), and Helena Bonham Carter to tell us this motivational tale of a man who would be king. This movie is neck-in-neck with The Social Network in the Best Picture race, but is it the best movie? No. Is it a bad movie? Not even. This movie was what you would expect from an inspirational movie and then some, but it seems too much like another inspirational movie called The Blind Side. You had someone come out of nowhere do something considerably crazy to a somewhat lost cause that, in the end, makes him come out stronger than ever.

Colin Firth plays Albert, the Duke of York, who has to make public speeches but has a bad stutter and is thus afraid to talk. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), consults a speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) who is known for his unorthodox yet effective methods of therapy in Australia and also enjoys acting Shakespeare without any success. The resulting buildup and partnership leads to a friendship that becomes just as strong as the future king’s ability to speak becomes in the end.

Firth is getting a reputation for this role as he has won the “Best Actor” from almost every single critic’s circle out there as well as the Golden Globe for this role, partially because he can actually make a convincing stutter. He really made his character seem natural and believable, which is hard for a character like his. Helena Bonham Carter’s performance didn’t leave much of an impression because she always seems to have a very still, calculating face with little emotion that only comes out through her voice. The role that stood out the most, however, was Geoffrey Rush. He made just about every scene that he was in with Firth entertaining, interesting, and at times really funny. His performance probably deserves the Best Supporting Actor Oscar more than Christian Bale, but I haven’t seen The Fighter, so I really can’t tell.

The movie does benefit of having a great ensemble, but that was because it benefitted from big-named talents, so that really doesn’t reflect much on the director. The inspirational arc that this movie has is similar to, like I said, other movies like The Blind Side and Stand and Deliver. In fact, if you were to pair this movie with Blind Side, you can easily pick out the similarities, especially the final scene. The story itself isn’t bad, and it does have the heart needed to make this movie work, even if it does come across a little too much by trying to make the audience root for this guy when the burden comes crashing down on him and putting in some obvious moments like George proclaiming “I have a voice”. My only real big criticism, besides the arc, is on the camerawork of this film. The camera puts the actors on the corner or on the far side of the screen as opposed to the center, which if you’re going to put a backdrop or some form of movement that goes with the scene is fine, but there wasn’t any, so why not put the characters in the center?

Bottom Line: The King’s Speech is good like The Blind Side is good. It does suffer from the inspirational schmaltz at times, but it’s pretty good. The acting is great from Firth and Rush, it does build up in an entertaining and even funny way, and it does have heart. I wouldn’t call this the potential “Best Picture” as it didn’t amaze me like The Social Network did; but nevertheless, it’s one of the best and still worth checking out.

Final Rating: 8 out of 10 – Do Go


The Mechanic: “Bland on action, but a decent alternative to Rom-Coms”

Jason Statham: Britain’s answer to Chuck Norris. He can star in any movie and make it be a showcase of just how badass he is. He can unload a ton of lead, perform killer martial arts moves, rob banks, drive cool cars, and just take matters in his own hands. Why? Because he’s a badass, or at least that’s what Hollywood is trying to make him. So can he provide a good alternative to the romantic comedy season for the single men out there? Can he give us a movie that isn’t a cheap excuse to take someone out and not feel alone? Let’s find out with The Mechanic.

Statham returns after giving us the expendable The Expendables to give us another action movie fresh with blood, murder, sex, and all things manly. He’s not doing this alone, though; he has Ben Foster with him to help it out. If only he actually could help make this movie exciting, because for an action movie, it really is bland. It leaves no impression of awesomeness like you would hope to find in an action movie because all the deaths aren’t exactly suspenseful or adrenaline-packed. There is very little exciting moments in this movie, so you’re just stuck with a plot that just really doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

Statham plays Arthur Bishop (although it really is just him being Jason Statham, but I was expecting that), who is a hit man that makes his kills seem like innocent accidents that leave no trace. He enjoys classical piano, tuning nice cars, and trying not to express much emotion. When he is tricked into killing a friend of his named Harry (Donald Sutherland), Bishop teams up with his friend’s son Steve (Ben Foster), who is angry and with the intention of killing the man who killed his father (irony.) and trains him to be as good of a hit man as he is to kill the guy who made him kill Harry. (Tony Goldwyn)

Jason Statham isn’t bad at what he does. He can really be the guy who knows what he’s doing and try to be the mentor that this movie calls for, but he shows really little to no emotion whatsoever. It’s like watching a wall that can actually make stuff explode. He does show some contempt for what he did, even if it is too subtle. Ben Foster’s character is just annoying but still even blander. His character has no depth besides the idea that he’s a bit of a freeloader that seeks vengeance and is a bit arrogant, like when he decides to disobey Statham’s orders by not giving his hit a roofie like he’s supposed to in the beginning of the hit. The villain, however, wasn’t given enough time to truly develop, so we are left with no impression whatsoever of him other than “he’s the bad guy”. So what? What was his true motive or connection to Harry?

While it is slow and bland for an action movie, I can’t say the movie was too bad. The hits were actually clever with some minor hiccups. One hit involved a choking to make it look like autoerotic asphyxiation, and it does seem a bit tangible. However, there were deaths that could be easily debunked, like a possible overdose that, if the plan went smoothly anyway, could be told through an autopsy that it wasn’t. It does get better at the end of the movie, after Steve finds out who really killed his father, and there were some scenes that were either funny or entertaining, such as when Statham almost sent someone’s daughter’s arm through the garbage disposal.

Bottom line: The Mechanic is pretty bland for an action movie, but it makes for an okay movie. Just okay. The action is minimal, the acting is minimal, the characters are underwritten and non-developing, and the plot seems to deviate for a while. Jason Statham isn’t bad for an action actor, and for a movie about a hit man it does try not to be messy with its hits and results with some clever kills and entertaining moments. If you’re looking for an alternative to the romantic comedy this season, then by all means; but it won’t be as awesome as you think it will be.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 – Don’t Go

The Mechanic is distributed by CBS Films.


The Dilemma Review

The dirty little secret is a simple yet harmless plot point that just about everyone uses. It can vary from “I’m throwing a huge house party, but I don’t want my parents to know” to “I am literally pretending to be somebody I’m not” or even “I just saw my best friend’s wife cheating on him”. We’ve seen these a million times, but it’s not the secret that draws us to the film; it’s the conflict that it creates and the resolution of the secret that people want to see. If the conflict develops and resolves well, it leaves us with an amusing take on the story; if it doesn’t, then we’re left with a dilemma, or in this case The Dilemma.

Director Ron Howard had the potential to do a lot with the idea as simple as this movie had, but unfortunately there wasn’t a lot done. The result is a painful, boring and even useless take on trying to keep a secret. With actors like Vince Vaughn and Kevin James that give us characters that weren’t any different from the movies we’ve seen before or even as amusing, it just makes the movie even more uninteresting.

The story is pretty simple: Ronny Valentine, played by Vince Vaughn (or is it Vince Vaughn played by Vince Vaughn?), and his good friend and partner Nick Backman (Kevin James) own a company that is trying to make an electric car that looks and feels like a muscle car from the seventies, and they actually struck a deal with Chrysler. Ronny is dating a girl named Beth (Jennifer Connelly) and Nick is married to Geneva (Winona Ryder), and things look great between everyone. Then, as Ronny plans out his proposal to Beth, he sees Geneva cheating on Nick with a sensitive thug named Zip (Channing Tatum). What results is a self-battle about whether or not he should tell Nick and a series of events where he tries to reveal the truth that lead to pretty hurtful results.

Vince Vaughn always plays the same character in every movie: the fast-talking, over-explanatory rambler that somehow manages to keep the same face almost every time. While he tries to be charming with Jennifer Connelly, it’s not that easy to tell because there is no emotion out of him. Winona Ryder’s character shows no sympathetic attributes about her. From the moment we find her cheating, she comes across as a manipulative, selfish, mean woman (there’s a “b” word for that, but I can’t use it). On top of that, her facial expressions are just ridiculous. Her eyes get obnoxiously big, and she uses the wrong expressions on her lips at the wrong times. There’s a part where she asks about Ronny’s face, and she looks like she’s giving a smile after Botox. Kevin James plays the big, nervous guy that everyone loves even though he also goes to Asian massage parlors with “happy endings” behind Geneva’s back. He’s not bad at it, but there’s no reason to show sympathy for him either. He even lies to his best friend when he’s at the parlor, and he happens to be right there the whole time. Queen Latifah’s character as a Chrysler executive trying to help Nick and Ron says some really inappropriate and uncomfortable lines such as talking about “lady-wood” if you know what I mean.

Still, surprisingly, the film’s saving grace lies in Channing Tatum. He plays this tough guy thug who really is a big softie, but the way he portrays it is just really amusing. Sure, it’s not the first time that someone tries to act tough, but Channing Tatum really made it work to the point where it actually was funny. However, there were moments where Ron could have told Nick and resolve everything sooner, but he doesn’t; and so the movie drags on with no development. There were possible moments of running jokes, such as Ronny tripping on poisonous plants and suffering the side effects, but those died off quickly leaving the audience with almost nothing entertaining.

Bottom line: the real dilemma is that this movie is painfully unfunny. The story is simple enough, but nothing develops; the characters aren’t amusing; there’s incredibly little humor; and it just drags on after possibilities of ending it sooner. It’s not a movie worth watching, and it just leaves you really uncomfortable. In fact, it’s movies like this that make movies like Due Date much more fun to watch. If you love Vince Vaughn, stick with Wedding Crashers; in fact, his line “I’m not a wedding counselor” is funny enough knowing he did so much better in Wedding Crashers.

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 – Don’t Go

The Dilemma is distributed by Universal